Ward uses an IDE called Pure Events, a tracker-like JavaScript environment built in the style of an Excel spreadsheet. He writes a bit of code in each cell, which is timed to trigger in harmony with what Griffiths and McLean are coding.

McLean, who also performs solo under the moniker Yaxu, initially used feedback.pl, a self-editing Perl programming environment. More recently he created a mini-pattern manipulation language in Haskell called Tidal, which flashes the section of code being executed so the audience can see it more clearly.

“A lot of the inspiration comes from pushing technology and seeing how we can build things differently with this completely different emphasis,” Griffiths said. “What I’m seeing increasingly which is really, really interesting is live coders who are musicians. They’re not interested in programming in any other sense than for them as a performance, so they aren’t interested in programming in itself, but they have very much adopted it as part of a musical experience.”

Algoraves are rooted in a 2004 live audio symposium, created by German philosopher and live coder Julian Rohrhuber, called Changing Grammars in Hamburg, Germany.

McLean live coding with Tidal at a performance in York, U.K. in 2011 (Photo courtesy of www.underyourskinphoto.uk)

Early live coders and bands trekked to Hamburg, and what resulted several days later was something called the Terrestrial Organization for the Proliferation of Live Art Programming (TOPLAP), an organization to explore and promote live coding.

“It was recognized that there were people in a few different countries and on a few different platforms trying to live code, and what we meant by live coding was also up for debate,” early live coder Nick Collins explained. “In a smoky Hamburg bar at 2 a.m., we formed TOPLAP.”

TOPLAP has served as evangelist and ambassador for the live coding movement for the past decade, connecting isolated pockets of live coders with the international community, and facilitating meet-ups, concerts, conferences and festivals. Over time, TOPLAP, which was only ever intended to be a temporary organization, has taken a backseat to the more recently formed Algorave organization, which McLean runs.

Origins of an algorave
On a road trip to Nottingham, England between live-coding gigs in late 2011, McLean and Collins, an electronic musician and computer music researcher who performs under the pseudonym Sick Lincoln, invented the concept of an algorave. They tuned into a radio station playing happy hardcore (an upbeat genre of techno music) and decided they wanted to try programming some raves.

“Algoraves were created partly in order to change the emphasis of what people expect,” Griffiths said. “If you put on a live-coding event, people really don’t know what to expect. They’re all standing around stroking their chins trying to work out what’s going on. During an algorave, people come expecting to drink and have fun and dance, and that totally changes the emphasis, which I think is one of the reasons it’s really taken hold.”

The first algorave, March 17, 2012